Twins

2020 Deadline Primer: Who Could the Minnesota Twins Target?

Photo credit: Joe Nicholson (USA TODAY Sports)

Nothing about the 2020 MLB season has been conventional. But at this point, we’re already more than halfway home.

So far, so good if you’re the Minnesota Twins. Sure, dropping a series in Cleveland isn’t ideal, but the Twins are still in first place and playing at what would amount to a 101-win pace over a full season.

Seems strangely familiar.

Anyway, it’s hard to believe that we’re already coming up on the trade deadline. Next Monday — Aug. 31 — at 4 p.m. Eastern the final bell will sound on player movement as things ramp up for what’s bound to be a frenetic postseason.

With more than half of MLB’s 30 teams slated to make the playoffs, and just one month of play — instead of two — following the deadline, it’s anyone’s guess what the deadline might look like. It could still be a seller’s market if teams want to engage others in a bidding war, but that would require a team determining they’re fully out on contending in 2020.

According to Fangraphs as of Wednesday, it was a pretty clear divide between the haves and the have-nots in the American League. Eight teams will make the playoffs — and eight teams have postseason odds at 65 percent or better.

That leaves the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles as likely sellers.

On the National League side, things are a little more distorted. Only four teams have odds above 90 percent. Seven teams have odds below 40 percent — including the defending champion Washington Nationals.

So let’s assume anyone under 40 percent could sell. That includes:

  • San Francisco Giants (39.3 percent playoff odds)
  • Colorado Rockies (33.8 percent)
  • Miami Marlins (31.3 percent)
  • Cincinnati Reds (30.4 percent)
  • Washington Nationals (18.4 percent)
  • Arizona Diamondbacks (17.1 percent)
  • Pittsburgh Pirates (0.3 percent)

Knowing these odds fulfills the thought that it “takes two to tango” regarding making a trade happen. Now again, that might mean that for a player of a certain caliber, seven or eight teams might line up instead of three or four — potentially meaning a team could extract maximum value.

The counter to that is whether teams want to give up a ton for what amounts to just a month if a player is deemed a “rental” — or in other words, an impending free agent.

So maybe that means more teams will be willing to pony up for players with multiple years of control on the back end. Then again, there’s some chatter that teams are going to be reticent about taking on any added salary due to the uncertain future of the 2021 season and beyond with what’s bound to be a contentious CBA negotiation coming up in the near future.

In short: we know nothing. But on we press.

Let’s take a look at some scenarios, and determine if the Twins would/should/could make a move to bolster their depth at certain spots.

Here goes nothing:

Catcher

This is only really pertinent if the Twins think Mitch Garver isn’t close to returning to the lineup. Intercostal strains can be tricky, and with all injuries, it has to be viewed through the lens of there not being much time left in the season. Alex Avila probably can’t be counted on to catch every day down the stretch. Is Ryan Jeffers ready to be part of that time-share into the playoffs? The Twins really like him — but it seems hard to say.

Odds they make a move:

Doesn’t seem extremely likely.

Who might be available:

Jason Castro (LAA), Francisco Cervelli (MIA), Robinson Chirinos (TEX), Kurt Suzuki (WAS)

Breakdown:

There are some interesting wrinkles here. Castro and Suzuki are clearly familiar to Twins fans, though Suzuki signed under the previous regime. Chirinos was with the Rangers for seven seasons — overlapping with Thad Levine — so there’s some familiarity there. Not only that, but there were some rumors that Minnesota was interested in him in a recent offseason.

Cervelli is well-regarded as a defender and as a handler of pitching staffs, but he’s also dealing with another concussion — his latest in a long line of them. Chirinos and Suzuki are off to really, really slow starts. Castro is too, to some extent.

But the reality is that these guys almost certainly won’t be judged on a handful of games to this point, but what value they might provide moving forward.

Any of them would make sense if the Twins go that direction, though that seems unlikely for now.

Utility Infielder

This really comes down to if the Twins think Josh Donaldson isn’t as close to a return as it sounds. If not, that means Marwin Gonzalez will be pressed into the lineup, leaving Ehire Adrianza and Ildemaro Vargas as bench jockeys with little competition for playing time. The reality is that the Twins could add another bench player if they decide they don’t need both Jake Cave and LaMonte Wade Jr. on the roster — though the injury that forced Max Kepler from Wednesday evening’s game might dictate that situation more than we currently realize.

But if Donaldson is at least semi-close to a return, this discussion is null and void. There could be some thought to how well the Twins regard Vargas, who was recently acquired in a DFA-and-trade situation with the Diamondbacks. Vargas could be a fit to stick with the team over the medium-term as a utility guy — especially with Adrianza and Gonzalez hitting free agency this winter — but he doesn’t really play shortstop and he doesn’t hit righties particularly well. He’s a career .251/.281/.342 hitter against righties and .274/.295/.500 guy against lefties, although it’s all in just a total of 284 MLB plate appearances.

If they aren’t married to Vargas and Donaldson isn’t quite ready, the Twins could be an under-the-radar team shopping for a utility player.

Odds they make a move:

Pretty low, honestly.

Who might be available:

Asdrubal Cabrera (WSH), Dee Gordon (SEA), Chris Owings (COL), Jonathan Villar (MIA), Jose Iglesias (BAL)

Breakdown:

Villar and Cabrera represent the higher ends here. Cabrera is having a terrific season — .269/.337/.505 heading into Wednesday’s action — for the Nationals and is a free agent at season’s end. He’s played first and third, but hasn’t played any second since last season and any short since 2018 with the Phillies. Villar is roving between shortstop, second base and center field, which could make him an especially intriguing acquisition for the Twins, who could also use the added depth in the outfield with Byron Buxton hurt and Kepler’s status still up in the air.

Villar also came into Wednesday leading the NL with nine steals, so he does have that added element as well.

Owings has played almost everywhere in his MLB career, and has looked respectable defensively while doing it. He’s only a career .241/.285/.367 hitter, but he’s up to .268/.318/.439 this year — albeit in the thin Coors Field air.

Gordon and Iglesias would basically be fliers. Iglesias is a terrific defender at short — though he has moved around some in the past — but doesn’t offer much with the stick. He’s kind of like a modern-day Alex Gonzalez, for those who can remember about 15 years ago. The Mariners would literally help Gordon pack; he’s 7-for-50 this season and was slated to make $13.8 million before the season was abbreviated. He plays a few defensive positions — none of them overwhelmingly well, however — and can really run.

If there’s ever been a year to sneak a guy like that onto the roster, assuming the Mariners pick up some of the freight and don’t ask much in return, it’d be 2020.

Outfielder

The Twins would honestly have to be pessimistic about getting one or both of Buxton and Kepler back in the near future. Even with his slow start, Cave can capably fill in for one or the other, but expecting he and Wade to fill two-thirds of a big-league outfield is probably a stretch.

The latest reports on Buxton — hitting off a tee and nearing a return perhaps within the next week, per Jon Morosi — are encouraging, so it feels pretty unlikely the Twins would look to do anything here. Plus if Donaldson can return soon, Gonzalez becomes an option in the outfield as well.

Odds they make a move:

Extremely unlikely.

Who might be available:

Michael A. Taylor (WSH), Cameron Maybin (DET), Jake Marisnick (NYM), Kevin Pillar (BOS)

Breakdown:

It’s a pretty uninspiring list. Marisnick is a good fielder who’s had his moments at the plate, but he’s dealing with a hamstring injury that’s cost him more than a month to this point. A three-hit game for Maybin pushed his season line to .256/.310/.436 in 42 plate appearances this season, and he was pretty good with the Yankees last year. Pillar is a good defensive outfielder — though perhaps not as good as he once was — who can run into one every now and then and is having a respectable (.257/.316/.419) offensive season for a dreadful Red Sox team. Taylor has done almost nothing offensively this season and is a forgotten man in a stacked Nationals outfield. He’s a good defender and he has shown a little pop in the past.

None of these would be any sort of long-term fix, but it’d probably be better than bringing up someone like Brent Rooker, who may or may not be suited to play defense in a corner spot down the stretch run for a playoff-contending team.

Starting Pitcher

The pivot point here, oddly enough, rests on the health of Homer Bailey and Rich Hill, most likely. The Twins would almost certainly go into a playoff series with some combination of Jose Berrios and Kenta Maeda starting Games 1 and 2. Would Jake Odorizzi or a healthy Hill start Game 3 or 4? Probably. But then there’s also Michael Pineda. And potentially a healthy Bailey.

Oh, and how can one forget about Randy Dobnak?

So there is probably something like seven contenders to secure what’ll probably be four postseason rotation spots.

But again, each one carries a caveat with the potential exception of Maeda, who has been brilliant. Berrios has been shaky, but he’s in. So too is Odorizzi if he’s healthy. It’s likely the Twins can count on two of Pineda, Hill, Dobnak and Bailey, right?

Well if they want to add another arm to that mix, it’s not an unreasonable proposition. But would it be the kind of pitcher who’d take the ball on Game 3, no questions asked? Or would it be another intriguing guy that pitching guru Derek Falvey takes a shot on in hopes that Wes Johnson can mold a ball of clay in the span of a month to have another dependable arm that only costs the price of a single lottery ticket?

I’m betting on the latter — but who knows?

Odds they make a move:

This is a teeter-totter. I’m somewhere in the vicinity of 45-55 percent.

Who might be available:

Trevor Bauer (CIN), Anthony DeSclafani (CIN), Kevin Gausman (SF), Mike Minor (TEX), Martin Perez (BOS), Robbie Ray (ARI), Jeff Samardzija (SF), Drew Smyly (SF), Taijuan Walker (SEA), Lance Lynn (TEX), Dylan Bundy (LAA), Alex Cobb (BAL), Johnny Cueto (SF), Matthew Boyd (DET), Joe Musgrove (PIT)

Breakdown:

There’s a lot to take in here, so let’s just gloss over some highlights. Lynn and Bauer are probably out. Lynn because he has multiple years of control left and would fetch a ton in a trade, and Bauer because it’s a one-month rental for a guy something like 10 teams will probably want — if the Reds even bow out.

Minor and Samardzija are off to rough starts — in two different ways, mind you — but could be interesting vets for the stretch run. Bundy has broken out in a big way and has another year of control — but is the breakout legit and would it be worth trading significant prospect capital for him? Do the Angels already want to punt on 2021? That seems unlikely.

Cobb, Cueto and Desclafani are all guys who could capably hold down a No. 4-5 spot in a rotation and probably wouldn’t cost a ton.

Musgrove and Boyd would be the kinds of guys a team would love to get their hands on over the longer haul, because their potential is so tantalizing even if their present is a bit murky. The same is true for Ray, who is an impending free agent but at times can really look like an ace, and at others struggles with home runs and throwing strikes.

Beyond that the guy to maybe keep an eye on is Perez. He was with the Twins last year and seemed like a generally good clubhouse fit. He’s pitched respectably for the Red Sox this season, is going to be a free agent over the winter and could not only start but also bring some heat to the bullpen if/when guys get healthy.

Relief Pitcher

Question: How many relievers does a team need?

Answer: More.

The Twins have a good bullpen. Teams need good bullpens to win in October (usually) — and the opportunity to add should never be passed up. A lot of times, it comes down to impending free agents or guys on teams who won’t contend for the next few years — though they’d then fetch some added value (like Edwin Diaz, for instance, a few years ago).

Odds they make a move:

If they make any moves, this would probably be the favorite in the clubhouse.

Who might be available:

Keone Kela (PIT), Brandon Kintzler (MIA), Matt Barnes (BOS), Sean Doolittle (WSH), Tony Watson (SF), Trevor Rosenthal (KC), Greg Holland (KC), Buck Farmer (DET), Mychal Givens (BAL), Matt Magill (SEA), Ian Kennedy (KC), Daniel Norris (DET), Jose Cisnero (DET), Felix Pena (LAA), Hansel Robles (LAA), Daniel Hudson (WSH), Richard Rodriguez (PIT), Daniel Bard (COL), Carlos Estevez (COL), Junior Guerra (ARI), Hector Rondon (ARI)

Breakdown:

That feels like such an overwhelming list. We’ll gloss over just a few parts of it.

There are some guys who can do a little bit of everything here. Kintzler gets grounders. Doolittle has closed quite a bit, as have Holland and Rosenthal. Rosenthal and Barnes are power guys. Barnes is having a tough season, but it’s only 12 innings. He strikes out everyone — and battles his command — but arms like this are gambled on frequently. He’s a free agent after next year, and the Red Sox have already traded Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. Barnes could certainly be next.

Givens has been a terrific set-up man for more than half a decade now. Watson is one of the most reliable and durable lefty relievers in the game today. The Twins liked Magill enough to give him quite a bit of work before DFA’ing him last year, and he’s been pretty good with the Mariners in the interim.

Farmer has some potential to be the real “get” here, at least among those who shouldn’t cost a ton. He’s not a free agent until after 2022, and the strikeouts haven’t been there this season, but he was terrific in 2019 — 3.72 ERA/3.88 FIP in 67.2 innings, 73-22 K/UIBB rate. The only concerning thing here is that opposing batters still hit .247/.320/.422 against him.

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Photo credit: Joe Nicholson (USA TODAY Sports)

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